Holy Eucharist

The Eucharist or Divine Liturgy is the central mystery of the Church. It is at once the source and the summit of the life of the Church. In it, the Church is continuously changed from a human community into the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the People of God. The Eucharist is the final and greatest of the mysteries "since it is not possible to go beyond it or add anything to it. After the Eucharist there is nowhere further to go. There all must stand, and try to examine the means by which we may preserve the treasure to the end. For in it we obtain God Himself, and God is united with us in the most perfect union."

Every sacred mystery makes its partakers into members of Christ. But the Eucharist effects this most perfectly:

"By dispensation of His grace, He [Christ] disseminates Himself in every believer through that flesh whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the Immortal, man too may be a sharer in incorruption."

In the Divine Liturgy we do not commemorate one or another isolated event of sacred history. We celebrate, in joy and thanksgiving, the whole mystery of the divine economy from creation to incarnation, especially "the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father and the second glorious coming." Thus, in experiencing the reigning Christ in the Divine Liturgy, the past, present, and future of the history of salvation are lived as one reality in the mystery of the Kingdom of God.

Ignatius of Antioch says, "the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father in His graciousness raised from the dead."

The Term "Divine Liturgy" or "Qurbono"

The Divine Liturgy is the sacred rite by which the Orthodox Church celebrates the mystery of the Eucharist. This title for the Eucharist is derived from two Greek words, theia and leitourgia. The word theia means "pertaining to God," hence divine. The term leitourgia comes from two words; leitos (people) and ergon (work), hence "the work of the people" or "a public service, act or function." By the fourth century, the word leitourgia, together with adjective theia (i.e., Divine Liturgy) had become the technical term for the mystery of the Eucharist. The word Eucharist in turn means thanksgiving. It takes its name from the great prayer of consecration (Anaphora) pronounced by the celebrant of the Divine Liturgy. The usual Syriac word for the Eucharistic Liturgy is either qurobo, meaning "approach" or qurbono, "oblation" or "sacrifice." The Holy Fathers of the Syriac Tradition often refer to the Liturgy as the roze qadeeshe (the Holy Mysteries), signifying the profound mystery of the bread and wine.

Christ instituted the Eucharist at the supper on Holy Thursday in remembrance (anamnesis) of his redemptive work and to establish a continuous intimate communion between himself and those who believe in Him. The actions and words of the Lord concerning the bread and wine formed the basis for the Eucharist, the chief recurrent liturgical rite of the Church. The nucleus of every Eucharistic rite consists in four actions: the offering and the placing of bread and wine on the holy Table; the anaphora or great Eucharistic prayer, which includes the words of institution and the invocation of the Holy Spirit to change the gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ; the breaking of the consecrated Bread (i.e., the fraction); and the communion of the consecrated elements by the people of God.

Written by Tenny Thomas

[1] Daniel Sheerin, The Eucharist, Series: Message of the Fathers of the Church, Volume 7, (Collegeville, 1986).
[2] Cabasilas, The Life in Christ.
[3] Eugene LaVerdiere, The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church (Collegeville, 1996).
[4] Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 6.
[5] Rev. Baby Varghese, West Syrian Liturgical Theology, (Aldershot, 2004), pp. 44-45.